Why chain of command organizations risk fast obsolescence

By: Bill Van Eron Wednesday December 6, 2017 0 comments Tags: Bill Van Eron


 By Bill Van Eron

Value Systems Architect

Headwaters Marketing and Innovation

The purpose of this blog is not to disrespect long-held notions of the value of an effective, visionary, open minded, enabling leader and executive team.

The leaders that have been able to set and achieve a course of action and value through change beyond mere words, while relating to employees and customers on a more human level, are increasingly rare.

Holding on to what we learned yesterday -- while some values survive -- has caused many a large company to fail faster. Many see today’s exponential rate of change as a threat or a loss of control. They may fail to see how resistance chains their company from achieving revenue growth, as evident by a large percentage of CEO’s who tried to mandate marketing to be responsible in 2017.

86% failed, according to Deloitte. Success for today’s leaders, their companies, employees and customers demands a better view of the business and market ecosystem and a genuine commitment to measure up to a new and higher standard. This blog frames up the need for organizations with such appointed leaders and their teams within, to understand the forces shaping a new hybrid organization that invites leadership from within its ranks and as a sustained value conduit between them and the markets they serve.

This is a time when companies that do embrace the value tenets driving change, can achieve far greater growth than many of us can ever recall.

Several HR reports and CEO discussions revealed that today’s in demand talent wants to make a difference and feel enabled. But a large majority (like around 90%) first ask what a company stands for. That purpose and strength of impact is what most customers and employees seek today, yet answers to that need tend to fall short of the real opportunity.

Lessons from history still can define a better future.

How many of us in life have a value compass that helps us to always do the right thing by instinct and genuine interest in others. I was lucky to in life to connect my design passion to something bigger. That open attitude to new stimulus enabled me to shed my design comfort zones and use that creativity to pursue my passion past the status quo that defines business today, to instead invest in external and internal relationships where meaning, trust, value and a great experience are shared takeaways. This is not a sudden revelation. I can speak to this personally as I have had the privilege to work directly with many visionary CEO’s and leaders who accepted their charter to enable people within. Today that has grown in relevance as the most talented among us want to be enabled by a company that has a strong purpose.

At the top of my list – and for almost 100% of all that worked there from 1978 to 2000 was the two CEO’s for Hewlett-Packard (HP).

I joined them in 1978 – 2001 and immediately was taken by the following:

  1. The legendary HP Way and culture of Management By Objective enabled employees that cared to add value to challenge the status quo, while earning trust as I was proud to do. That is so rare and yet vital. As a professional within the ranks, no one above me knew more than I did about the customer, strategy, relevance and the role design and marketing had to play for HP. Likewise, most deferred actively championing me stating it was my job, thus my risk. Not the ideal support for one that soon earned top status as a customer champion and as a market strategist, but a learning in courage, confidence and achieved performance that accounted for HP’s highest growth between 1990 and 2001. I cared more about the inspired teams I was a catalyst to enable than the hundreds of millions we made each time.   
  2. A strong mindset for quality and the ability to carry that across new product development. I extended that to include the market experience and our credibility, which was both fun and a beach head for future market and brand investments.
  3. The constant innovation. If one division did not invent a product, another did. Globally acclaimed HP Labs.
  4. The interdependency between a near 100% spirit of employee buy-in, enablement and revenue growth.
  5. The ever-present respect for open, constructive dialog and new learning.
  6. A strong social footprint in global and local communities.

Now, HP had problems too, but their culture helped them to open up to new thinking. Engineers are very smart, detail-oriented, yet also tend to abide by the status quo and they often miss the factors that happen outside of engineering that are crucial to success…today. HP still has great people that they need to enable.

The past – done ahead of the curve - affords an advance view of how organizations can greet their challenges today.

HP remains a big ship, but like all big ships, your destination has to inspire all on that journey, or few show. Changes in power structure where one dominant knowledge area (engineering) limited the effectiveness of growingly vital other skills to do what they do best, without the chains of bias or indifference stopping them. All tech companies had this challenge. A few are figuring it out:

  1. Recognizing, enabling and promoting emerging champions and a new breed of leadership within.
  2. Challenging your company view of markets and value creation to avoid becoming a closed culture.
  3. Inviting challenges to your most crucial assumptions internally and externally. I give great credit to the Steelcase CEO and his executive team for inviting me, an outside expert from an entirely different industry - in to listen, synthesize and suggest a path for success that carried them out of fourth place and into a decades-long run as the top office furniture solution creator today. Same with the brand I shaped for Tech Data.  

Look at what has changed:

  1. Words alone don’t matter. Any promise falling short of being genuine in a transparent world, is revealed to all. Some companies have started saying the right things but actions are what people will see.
  2. Emotional connection. Gallup reported that 70% of employee’s are emotionally disconnected with work in 2016, 70% in 2017. With CEO’s stating inclusion was at the top of their list in 2016, that’s a failing grade.
  3. The propensity to isolate a problem and pick one thing to fix it, is a clear indication that leader fails to understand everything is part of one system.
  4. Stuck in the patterns of your past. Traditional marketing and sales consultants still do what they did long ago at a growing cost where the impact diminishes. Mention sales or marketing to a customer and they tune out or run the other way.

Turning it all around is not as hard as many think. But having done it well before it was on any corporation’s radar, gives me an advantage of knowing how along with the genuine hope others can open up to discover it.

Earlier this year I flagged Microsoft as a large company shedding its chains to celebrate diversity and to acknowledge its champions within. Sure, it starts with great words but am hoping the actions soon follow. Have been busy helping other companies, possibly even Microsoft, to share the genuine excitement their actions will create internally and externally. Have no sales or elaborate web site as we abhor push marketing.

Bill Van Eron

About the Author: Bill Van Eron

For Bill Van Eron, life & work are all about conscious observation and earning our needed humanity high bar. Whether Bill was an art director or lead designer in NYC, the most demanding marketing environment, or shaping a more relevant brand for soon to be major companies in Denver, or across his 25-year career in HP, as its champion for progressive enlightenment, diversity, inclusion and the highest relevance, which followed every project, Bill stays inspired to help others shape a better world, lives & work as connected to greater attention to our humanity, creativity and value-creation. All as vital to any organization's greater success. Bill now is championing the first and most conscious innovations that resolve challenges to our planets environment, as well as business and government realizing each’s greater purpose and brand value. Tired of conventional approaches and willful ignorance, Bill was recruited as one who can champion each solutions authentic relevance. Bill hopes Colorado and Fort Collins can open up and get in flow, as a community Bill & his wife only wish the best for as also enabled with a view all others benefit by, whether they see it initially or not.